I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am delighted to speak on the Bill. I am also delighted that consensus was achieved on it in the Seanad, leaving very little work to be done in the Dáil before it can be referred to the President for signature. I commend Senator Mark Daly, Fianna Fáil and members of the deaf community on the work that was put into achieving that consensus. I particularly want to mention Grace Coyle, Senator Mark Daly's parliamentary assistant, for her dedication, perseverance and endless patience in seeing the Bill through to this point. I also commend Deaglán Ó Briain, Jennifer O'Connell and my adviser, Gerry Maguire, for their amazing and professional work on the Bill.
As I mentioned in the Seanad, the Government's approach to amending the Bill is to keep and strengthen the three key features that need to be in legislation. Those are: to ensure the retention of the important recognition by the State of Irish Sign Language and that users have the right to use it; to place a duty on public bodies to provide Irish Sign Language interpretation at no cost to the user when access to statutory entitlements is sought by a person; and to provide a clear statutory right to use Irish Sign Language in court proceedings.
I reiterate for the House that, in response to concerns raised by the deaf community - all of whom present in the Gallery I welcome to the House for this very important debate - the commitments relating to Irish Sign Language in the national disability inclusion strategy I launched last July were strengthened. In addition to providing for the extension of the Irish Sign Language remote interpretation service to evenings and weekends and supporting this legislation to ensure that all public bodies provide Irish Sign Language users with free interpretation when accessing or availing of their statutory services, we will ensure that the Sign Language Interpretation Service, SLIS, will be resourced to increase the number of trained sign language and deaf interpreters. A quality assurance and registration scheme for interpreters, for whom ongoing professional training and development will be provided, will be established. I am delighted to confirm that an allocation of €327,000 in 2018 has been made available to SLIS via the Citizens Information Board for that work.
Much work was put into improving the Bill in the Seanad and, as I said, there are very few amendments for the Dáil to consider. One substantive amendment to the Bill has been proposed following discussions between myself and Senator Mark Daly. In regard to specific detail on the number of hours per annum, the Bill, as published, proposed that users of Irish Sign Language be provided with an annual allocation of interpretation for non-public sector purposes, to include GP visits and social and cultural activities. That level of detail and prescription is not appropriate to primary legislation, which point was accepted by the Senator in negotiations. I again thank him for his co-operation. Although he agreed in the Seanad to the deletion of the provision, which is contained in section 7, that was on the basis that the issue would be further considered in the Dáil. I accept that sign language users suffer extreme social isolation. That argument was put forward by the deaf community and the Senator and I accept it. Provision of support so that sign language users can visit the GP and engage in social, cultural and other activities would be a humane and worthwhile initiative to combat that isolation and improve well-being and mental health. However, that cannot be regulated through detailed prescription of annual numbers of hours in primary legislation as was originally proposed. I am delighted to confirm that I have secured the agreement of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, for the provision, in principle, of funding to Irish Sign Language services in that regard.
The intention for 2018 is to develop guidelines as envisaged in amendment No. 15. SLIS, working with its funder, the Citizens Information Board, will be tasked with scoping out how a model for such a scheme would operate and preparing draft guidelines for consideration and approval by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The intention, subject to the progress of that work, is to aim to trial an approach towards the end of 2018. In that context, a sum of up to €50,000 may be made available from within existing resources to meet any pilot project costs incurred towards the end of next year. Following the pilot project, more detailed proposals and revised guidelines will be developed and they will inform future annual funding requirements, subject to the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, in the normal way.
The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has examined the text of the amendment originally suggested by Senator Mark Daly and advised that it should be recast as per amendment No. 15. The Senator and I engaged in further discussions and it is now an agreed amendment. As agreement has been reached on an approach to funding, which is the remaining outstanding issue, and as it is a very real issue for the deaf community, I am happy to present the amendment by agreement.
The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has advised that a number of technical amendments should be made to the Bill, as passed by the Seanad. They include: moving a regulation-making power adding new public bodies from definitions in section 2 to a substantive section of the Bill; a technical recasting of the regulations in respect of notice to be given by a user of Irish Sign Language seeking to avail of free interpretation services and ancillary matters in section 5; an internal reorganisation of the review of the Act in section 9; and changing the Title of the Bill to the Irish Sign Language Act 2017, which is crisper and more user-friendly. Those amendments have been discussed and I hope we will be able to agree them on Committee Stage.
It is appropriate to reflect at this time of year on the significant progress that has been made on disability issues over the past 12 months.
The task force on personalised budgets, which I launched in 2016, will report to me shortly on a personalised budgets model, which will give people with disabilities more control in accessing health-funded personal social services, thereby giving them greater independence and choice in accessing services which best meet their individual needs. The task force is an important part of the process of progressing the Government's objective to provide services and supports to people with disabilities that will enable them to have greater independence in accessing the services they choose and improve their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives. This is an important issue in the context of choice and equality for all citizens.
In April of this year the Make Work Pay report was launched, and many its 24 recommendations already are being actively advanced by all Departments. In some cases the Government has gone beyond the recommendations of the report in support of people with disabilities. For example, the report identified transport as being critically important for people with disabilities who are considering returning to work. On foot of this recommendation, it was decided that a person in receipt of a long-term disability payment may retain his or her free travel pass for five years.
In budget 2018, I secured an increase in the allocation for disability services to €1.763 billion, which is an increase from the allocation of €1.688 billion in 2017. As a result of my securing additional funding of €92 million for disability services in 2017, this year saw the allocation of an additional €10 million for the provision of services for 1,500 young people leaving school and rehabilitative training this year; the development of alternative respite models with €1 million in targeted funding; the reconfiguration of residential services supported by €20 million in capital funding and to be further supported by the service reform fund; and quality improvements to increase compliance with the national standards for residential services for children and adults with disabilities.